Question: Has Allah asked us to sit on the floor while we are eating, or it is just a cultural thing?
Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
Thank you for your important question.
Sayyidna Anas (Allah be pleased with him) said that in all the time he spent with the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), never did he see him eat at a table or on anything raised. [Bukhari]
In explanation of this, Imam al Ghazali says:
The third measure that one should take when eating is to eat on a mat on the floor, since this is closer to the practice of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) than put it on a table … It is said that four innovations occurred after the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace): eating at tables, sieves, soap, and eating one’s fill.
Note that even if we hold that eating on the a mat on the floor is better, we do not hold that eating at a table is either offensive or forbidden because there is no prohibition concerning it. It should not be argued that [it is forbidden] merely because it was inaugurated after the [time of] the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), since not every innovation is forbidden, only those that contravene an established religious practice (sunna) or remove revelatory legislation that still ought be applied (maa baqa illatihi).
Furthermore, innovation is sometimes obligatory, given certain situation changes. All eating at a table consists of is put food higher up to make it easier to eat, and there is nothing offensive in the likes of such an action…Eating on table is simply a means to make eating easier, which itself is permissible, as long as it is not done out of arrogance or pride. [Ihya Ulum al Din, Ghazali]
To summarise, it is not merely cultural to eat on the floor on a mat but religiously recommended. At the same time, there is nothing wrong with eating at a table.
It is also recommended (sunna) when eating to sit on one’s haunches or to sit with one’s right let up and left underneath one, which is easier to do sitting on the floor. [Fath al-Muin, Millibari]
Sitting on the floor is also more humble and expresses the humbled awe one feels at being given the grace of one’s daily bread. As the saying goes, the mere habits of the best are the best of habits.
I pray this helps.
[Ustadh] Farid Dingle
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years he has developed a masterful ability to craft lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language.